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Anglin v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

June 21, 2018

ANGLIN et al.
v.
SMITH et al.

          DILLARD, C. J., REESE AND BETHEL, JJ.

          BETHEL, JUDGE.

         In Anglin v. Smith, Case No. A16A1405 (October 12, 2016), this Court granted Mittie Anglin and her husband a new trial in their medical malpractice action against Dr. Stephanie Smith and Gwinnett Anesthesia Service, P.C. (GAS). This Court determined that, regardless of whether the plaintiffs' counsel had a duty to disclose a certain affidavit to the defense as part of pre-trial discovery, when the plaintiffs attempted to utilize the affidavit in the course of trial, the trial court erred by excluding the affidavit. Anglin, at 2.

         Following this Court's denial of their motion for reconsideration, Dr. Smith and GAS petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. That petition was granted, and the Supreme Court vacated this Court's judgment and remanded the case to this Court for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Resurgens, P.C. v. Elliott, 301 Ga. 589 (800 S.E.2d 580) (2017).[1]

         In Elliott, a malpractice action, the plaintiff attempted to call a witness who had not been specifically identified as a potential witness in the plaintiff's discovery responses or in the pre-trial order. Elliott, 301 Ga. at 589. The trial court later excluded the witness from testifying. Id. This Court ruled that the trial court's exclusion of the witness was in error and granted the plaintiff a new trial. Id. See also Elliott v. Resurgens, P.C., 336 Ga.App. 217 (782 S.E.2d 867) (2016). However, the Supreme Court reversed this Court's decision granting the plaintiff a new trial, finding that the trial court had not abused its discretion under the discovery rules by excluding the witness. Elliott, 301 Ga. at 597-99 (2) (b).

         In light of Elliott, we now turn to a reconsideration of the issues originally raised on appeal by the appellants: whether the plaintiffs had a pre-trial duty to disclose the affidavit they attempted to use to question a witness in the case and, if so, whether the trial court erred by barring the plaintiffs from using the affidavit at trial to refresh the witness's recollection. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the trial court's exclusion of the affidavit.

         1. Relevant Factual Background.[2]

         Construed in favor of the jury's verdict, [3] the evidence shows that in 2010 Anglin's orthopedist referred Anglin to anesthesiologist Stephanie Smith for a series of lower back injections to treat pain. Smith performed the second injection on May 12, 2010, although she stopped the procedure midway when Anglin complained of pain shooting down her leg. Anglin left Smith's clinic following the procedure. Anglin contends that after the second injection, she suffered weakness and pain in her lower extremities, such that she was unable to stand, as well as urinary incontinence.

         The precise time at which Smith learned of Anglin's problems following the second injection was a key issue at the 2015 trial. Smith testified that she assessed Anglin after the epidural procedure and noted no problems with walking. Other staff at Smith's clinic also testified that Anglin would not have been discharged had she been unable to walk. On May 14, two days after the procedure, Smith received a telephone message that Anglin's legs were "hardly working at all." Smith testified that when she returned the phone call, Anglin said she was having spasms and needed more pain medication but had no problems with her bowel or bladder function and was able to walk. According to Smith, Anglin declined to come see her in the office or go to the emergency room. Smith prescribed medication and said she told Anglin to go to the emergency room if she did not improve and could not reach Smith or the doctor on call. Smith said Anglin did not call her to report problems again.

         At trial, Anglin told a different version of this conversation, testifying that she told Smith that her legs were "jerky" and "wouldn't work" but Smith did not ask her to come into the office or direct her to the emergency room; she said she couldn't remember if Smith asked her about urinary issues. The plaintiffs' expert testified that, assuming Anglin had told Smith in that conversation that she could not walk due to leg weakness, was in pain, and was experiencing urinary incontinence, Smith should have directed Anglin to come to her office or go to the emergency room for an MRI. Smith herself testified that she would have sent Anglin directly to the ER if Anglin said she could not stand up and walk.

         On May 18, Anglin visited another doctor who spoke with an orthopedic surgeon and advised her to go straight to an emergency room to meet with him. Anglin received surgery that same day but continued to experience difficulties through the time of trial. Claiming Smith violated the standard of care by not properly assessing her after the second injection or investigating further after their post-injection phone conversation, Anglin sued Smith and her employer, GAS.

         The sole focus of this appeal is the trial testimony of Robert Gadlage, a physician who employed Anglin at the time of the injections. In particular, the appeal concerns the trial judge's limitation of Gadlage's testimony based on the plaintiffs' responses to discovery. Before trial, the defendants served the plaintiffs with several interrogatories, including a general request for names and addresses of all witnesses. Gadlage was identified in response to that interrogatory. The defendants also posed a rather inartfully worded interrogatory:

Please indicate whether any doctor, nurse or other individual, with or without medical training, has ever expressed to you in your presence, or to your knowledge has ever expressed to or in the presence of some other person, any opinion that these Defendants were negligent, acted inappropriately or otherwise caused or was at fault, or that you contend could be construed in any way to support the allegations of your Complaint. Please indicate in reasonable detail when and where such statement was made, what was said and who was present.

         The plaintiffs responded to this by referring to their response to the more general interrogatory seeking the identity of all witnesses. A document request included in the same set of defense discovery requests sought production of any documents "referred to in your answers to interrogatories." The plaintiffs responded that they had "none at this ...


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